Ontario Food Hero – Indian Food Expert

Here we will profile people in this province who help shape the way we eat, cook and think about food.

a young Preena in her family's community garden in Mississauga

Preena Chauhan, Indian food expert

Preena and her mother Arvinda teach regional, home-style Indian cooking classes together and are guest lecturers for a wide range of audiences, including the Niagara Culinary Institute at Niagara College and the Research Chefs Association. Preena has appeared on television including Food Network Canada and organized culinary tours to one of her favourite food destinations, South India.

In 2008 she was granted the Local Food Hero award by the Toronto Food Policy Council for her efforts of promoting local food through Arvinda’s cooking classes and is involved with the Harborside Organic Farmer’s Market.

Join Preena for a Celebration of India this Monday, September 26th at 7pm, as part of 86’d Mondays at the Drake Hotel.

Where did you start out in the food world?

My mother encouraged me in the kitchen at a very early age, where I helped with baking during the holidays and did small jobs like sorting out lentils and washing the rice. When my mother started Arvinda’s Indian Cooking Classes in the early 90s, I acted as her kitchen assistant which was my part time job in high school. I didn’t realize at the time, but I was gaining a lot of knowledge and appreciation for Indian cuisine. When I was in university baking was as an outlet for me to relieve stress. This stayed with me and my interest and passion just grew from there.

What changes have you seen over the years in how the people you meet feel about local farmers and food?

Since doing my Master in Environmental Studies degree at York University in 2004 where I researched the organic and local food movement and how businesses are adapting towards sustainability, I’ve seen a huge shift in consumer behaviour, particularly the attention in the media and businesses making strong commitments to making a connection to food and local farmers. On a consumer level, we’re impressed with the demands and pressure people are making to support local food. For us to include local, organic Ontario garlic into Arvinda’s Artisanal Spice Blends made sense to us for so many reasons, taste being one of them.

what is your favourite vegetable?

Broccoli! I love broccoli, maybe because it is not a vegetable traditionally found in the Indian kitchen. I was always told broccoli does not pair with Indian spices, so I’m always trying to find ways to fit it into my Indian dishes like a Vegetable Korma or a South Indian Coconut Vegetable Medley. I also love chilled broccoli salads in the summertime as well. Russian Blue potatoes are also a favourite of mine for their aesthetic qualities.

farm animal?

The cow. In Indian culture the cow is revered and respected like a mother, as it is the giver of life through her milk.

season?

No hesitation here, summer as I love the sunshine and sultry, hot weather. It is in summer I am the most alive and feel I’m in optimal health as I tend to eat an overload of seasonal vegetables as they taste so good. I can’t get enough of our Ontario field tomatoes. Summer also reminds me of one of my favourite travel destinations, India.

Where are some of your favourite places in Ontario for food and drink?

Olson Foods at Ravine Winery for their great sandwiches to go and sweet treats

Udupi Palace for authentic South Indian masala dosas

Boiler House in the Distillery District

Spice Safar for pistachio filled croissant

SOMA Chocolates for Mayan Hot Chocolate

Love the Drake’s summer Rhubarb Sour cocktail

Malivoire’s Lady Bug Rose is a nice pair to an Indian meal

North 44 for a special meal

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